Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV
With just about a week to go until Kentucky Derby 137, it’s time to start recapping what went down on the 2011 Derby Trail. Over the next week, Anthony Stabile will look at all 24 horses that are still being pointed towards the Run for the Roses before an extensive breakdown of the final field next Friday, exclusively at VegasInsider.com. To buy Anthony Stabile products, CLICK HERE!!!
In the final installment of Derby Countdown, we’ll take a look at the three East Coast and three West Coast contenders for the Derby 137. Let’s start with the New Yorkers, specifically the two-year-old Eclipse Award champion, UNCLE MO.
It’s been a long while since a colt caused as much excitement in his juvenile season as Uncle Mo did last year. After annihilating a strong group of maidens in his debut at Saratoga, trainer Todd Pletcher threw him right into the deep end when he announced his next start would come in the prestigious and historic G1 Champagne at Belmont during the Fall Championship Meet.
Uncle Mo rewarded Pletcher’s confidence with a tour de force, gate-to-wire score by almost 5 lengths in which he went the mile in an electrifying 1:34 2/5. It was hard to imagine Uncle Mo improving off of his first two starts, but that’s exactly what he did in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Over the same Churchill strip he’ll run over this Saturday, Uncle Mo sat off the pace for the first time and made the lead on the turn, emerging from a three way dogfight and powering away to a 4 ¼ length score that immediately stamped him as one of the strongest winter book Derby favorites of all time.
After a winter break, Uncle Mo returned to the track in January, had his first work on Super Bowl Sunday and was originally pointed towards the G2 Tampa Bay Derby on March 12th. A confluence of factors eventually changed his course and the one mile Timely Writer at Gulfstream on the same day became his new goal.
The Timely Writer turned into nothing more than a paid workout as Uncle Mo toyed with his pathetically overmatched rivals by the easiest 3 ¾ lengths imaginable before galloping out an extra quarter of a mile that if timed would probably have been faster than most final Derby running times.
In his next start, the G1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, Uncle Mo seemed to have his eight rivals over a barrel again. But a funny thing, or bunch of things, happened on Wood Memorial day. First a buzz about some interesting markings on his legs, some said he didn’t look like the Uncle Mo they were accustomed to and there of course there was his less than stellar performance.
Sent to the front by regular rider John Velazquez, Uncle Mo never appeared to be comfortable and couldn’t shake the competition off at the top of the stretch like he had in his four prior wins. Instead, Uncle Mo offered little resistance in the final eighth of a mile and wound up third, beaten 1 ¼ lengths. It was announced soon after the race that he was suffering from some stomach problems but would still be pointed towards the Derby while being treated. He’s trained well since the Wood Memorial, including a five furlong work in company over a sloppy Churchill strip in 1:01 3/5 on 5/1.
Uncle Mo’s workmate that day was his stablemate STAY THIRSTY, who gives Pletcher and owner Mike Repole a one-two punch for the race. Stay Thirsty went a tick slower than his workmate, whose shadow he’s been trying to escape throughout his career.
After finishing second in his debut at Belmont, Stay Thirsty broke his maiden two weeks before Uncle Mo did up at the Spa by 5 ½ lengths. A second place finish to the highly regarded Boys At Toscanova in the G1 Hopeful followed before a two month layoff. Stay Thirsty returned in the B.C. Juvenile and made a four wide move on the turn before fading in the stretch to finish a well beaten fifth in his last start of the year.
Stay Thirsty returned in the G3 Gotham over the Aqueduct inner track and didn’t disappoint his backers that made him 4-5, taking the traditional Wood Memorial prep by 3 ¼ lengths despite breaking a bit slowly and not kicking in until mid-stretch. But with Uncle Mo being pointed towards the centerpiece of the Aqueduct meet, Stay Thirsty, it was decided, would run in the G1 Florida Derby.
Equipped with blinkers for the first time and dismissed at 8-1, Stay Thirsty didn’t run two steps and began to fade midway down the backstretch before finishing next to last in the eight horse field by close to 17 lengths. Ramon Dominguez, aboard for his last two starts, returns for the Derby but the blinkers wont as Pletcher, who’s looking for back-to-back Derby wins after scoring with Super Saver last year, said he’ll run without them.
(Editor's Note: Toby's Corner was declared out of the 137th Kentucky Derby on Tuesday morning by trainer Graham Motion)
The horse the blinkers certainly did help, and perhaps the one lost in the shuffle of the Uncle Mo saga is the Wood Memorial winner TOBY’S CORNER, trained by Graham Motion who will also saddle Animal Kingdom.
Toby’s Corner began his career with a show finish in a maiden race at Delaware in the slop before winning next out off a brief layoff going a mile at Laurel. In his first start this season he returned immediately to the winners’ circle, taking a Laurel allowance contest by 1 ¼ lengths.
In his stakes debut, his first start under his rider Eddie Castro and first around two turns, Toby’s Corner passed his four rivals en route to a handy score in the Whirlaway in the mud over the inner track at Aqueduct. He stayed on the inner for a start in the Gotham and wound up third behind Stay Thirsty despite seeming unsettled throughout and racing wide on the far turn.
Motion decided to add blinkers for the Wood Memorial and under a patient Castro, who managed to save every inch of ground, closed resolutely through the lane to run down Uncle Mo and Arthur’s Tale, who looked home free at the eighth pole. He’s worked just once since, going six furlongs in 1:15 on 5/1 at Fair Hill training center.
G1 Santa Anita Derby winner MIDNIGHT INTERLUDE leads the trio of Californians headed to Louisville despite having run only four times, with none coming as a juvenile. Apollo in 1882 is the only horse to win the Derby without a start at two.
After running into Runflatout when third in his debut, Midnight Interlude finished second in another sprint before being stretched out by his trainer Bob Baffert, who’s seeking his fourth Derby win. Midnight Interlude romped home by 8 ½ lengths going a mile and was wheeled back less that three weeks later in the Santa Anita Derby.
Midnight Interlude was Baffert’s third-stringer going into the race as he already had both Jaycito and The Factor, considered to be Uncle Mo’s biggest threat in regards to Derby favoritism at one time, pointed towards the Run for the Roses. What a difference a few weeks and 1 1/8 miles makes.
Midnight Interlude was never far from the pace in the Santa Anita Derby and dug in every step of the way before getting up in the last two jumps to win. A week later, The Factor got trounced in the G2 Arkansas Derby and Baffert withdrew Jaycito from Derby contention shortly thereafter, leaving Midnight Interlude holding the bag. He’s trained extremely well since his last start, including a five furlong drill over the Churchill slop in 1:00 4/5 on 5/2. Victor Espinoza returns in the irons.
The horse nailed on the wire in the Santa Anita Derby was COMMA TO THE TOP, easily the most seasoned Derby runner with a bakers dozen starts already under his belt. And to think, you could have claimed him for $40K out of his debut or for $50K out of his maiden score two starts later.
Two failed attempts in the G2 Best Pal and G1 Del Mar Futurity followed before trainer Peter Miller took him to northern California where Comma to the Top turned it around. He won both a starter allowance and then an open allowance race before returning south to win an ungraded stakes at Hollywood. He followed that score with an impressive score in the G3 Generous, his turf debut and capped of his five race win streak and 10 race two-year-old campaign with a 1 ¾ length win in the G1 Cashcall Futurity, the biggest victory of his career
Comma to the Top returned to the races as the 1-2 favorite in the G3 El Camino Real Derby, never got close to the lead and faded in the stretch to finish fourth. Another fourth place finish followed in the G2 San Felipe before looking more like his old self in the Santa Anita Derby.
Comma to the Top battled and fought every step of the way on the lead in that race but couldn’t hold off Midnight Interlude. Before that race, his connections announced he wouldn’t run in the Derby and actually requested wagering be stopped on him for the third pool of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager. But his connections couldn’t contain their case of Derby Fever after his last effort. He completed his serious training on 5/1 at Hollywood going five furlongs in 1:00 2/5 over the Cushion synthetic surface and will be ridden by Patrick Valenzuela, who piloted Sunday Silence to win the 1989 Derby, for the first time.
Finally, what would a 21st century Derby be without the presence of Calvin Borel, who’s ridden the winner in three of the last four runnings. This year, Borel will ride TWICE THE APPEAL for trainer Jeff Bonde. Borel will be the colts’ ninth different rider in what will be his eleventh start.
Twice the Appeal lost the first six starts over a combination of dirt, turf and synthetic surfaces as a two-year-old before winning a $30K maiden claimer at Santa Anita. A starter allowance victory followed that effort before Twice the Appeal finished second in the Turf Paradise Derby in Arizona.
In his most recent start, the one that got him to this place, Twice the Appeal raced wide throughout before getting up in the final stages to take the winners’ share of the $800K that was up for grabs in the G3 Sunland Derby in New Mexico. Twice the Appeal finished his serious training with a six furlong work in 1:15 3/5 at Churchill on 4/30.
Well, that’s all of them, The Countdown will return next year but we’re not done with our Derby coverage by a longshot. Keep checking back every day for all of your up-to-date Derby news as we inch closer to Kentucky Derby 137!!!!